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Local

Deckhand back on barge, heading south

Treated and released after fall into frigid river

Patrick Brown today is back aboard the barge he fell from Friday night, riding it downstream on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers to Tennessee.

“He was probably one scared pup,” Coal City Fire Chief Harold Holsinger said Monday of the 22-year-old deckhand’s tumble into the Illinois River, just below Dresden Island Lock and Dam, about five miles upstream from Morris.

Brown took his bone-chilling spill into the icy water about 5:30 p.m. Friday, when the lead barge of the towboat, “The Anderson,” struck a pillar on the former EJ & E railroad bridge.

He was pulled from the water – 45 minutes later and a half-mile downstream from where he went in – by the combined efforts of the Coal City and Morris fire departments’ river rescue squads and the U.S. Coast Guard. The Grundy County Sheriff’s Department was present on a stand-by basis.

Holsinger says Brown, of Memphis, may have been in the river for an even longer period of time.

“I don’t know what kept him alive in the freezing water,” the chief noted. “But, he was wearing Carhart coveralls and boots, and had a flotation device on. He was dressed for cold weather.”

Brown and another deckhand were stationed on The Anderson’s two lead barges when the bridge pillar was struck. The impact skidded Brown into the river. His cries for help were heard by others on the towboat, who alerted authorities.

Both Morris and Coal City launched their rescue boats, with Morris going in at Stratton Park. Dresden Lock and Dam and The Anderson also put their rescue boats into the water, but the boat from the barge experienced mechanical problems.

Brown was spotted by his rescuers and pulled into the Morris Fire Department boat, which brought him back upstream.

He was loaded into the Coal City deputy fire chief’s car and brought out to the road, then transported by ambulance to Morris Hospital. Rescuers used blankets and hot packs to warm him on the ride to the hospital, where he was treated and released.

“It definitely turned out better than I was afraid it would turn out,” Holsinger noted.

Coal City Fire responded to the incident with its rescue boats and dive team, rescue trucks to supply light at the scene, and about a dozen volunteers.

Morris Fire had at least three responders and Assistant Fire Chief Bob Wills in their rescue boat, which made it all the way upstream in the dark to the site.

The Anderson’s tow, owned by Wexler Marine of Memphis, was two barges across, or 108 feet in width.

The distance between piers on the railroad bridge is 115 feet, leaving the lead barges a mere seven feet in clearance.

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